Since late 2011, when the group first emerged in Idleb, a north-western province, it has made a big impact on the battlefield. It was one of the first groups to use improvised explosive devices and to target the regime’s military bases in order to capture weapons...
It sees the war in Syria as a battle between Sunnis and Shias and wants a Sunni-led Islamic state, but emphasises that its campaign is for Syria, not for a global jihad. It has retained a Syrian leadership, saving the group from suspicions laid against others that are led by foreign fighters or include a lot of them. Ahrar al-Sham does not go in for suicide-bombings, preferring to use remote-controlled car bombs. It also carries out public works, mending roads and providing food, in contrast to other groups, whose predations upset the locals.
Also, by remaining independent of other groups—it refuses, for instance, to come under the umbrella of the West’s favourite commander, the Free Syrian Army’s Selim Idriss—it has avoided being labelled in the West as a terrorist group, as has happened to Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate.Ahrar al-Sham is the main force behind the Syrian Islamic Front, and the article suggests Qatar is supporting it as an alternative to the non-Islamist factions. Qatar probably is supporting it, but it also serves as an alternative to the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.